My Biggest Mistake: Pat Grant - A small step to success

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The Independent Online
Pat Grant and her eight sibling come from Stockton-on-Tees. Now 54, she met husband Alex when she moved to Caithness. They set up their business in 1972 to make and distribute freezers. Today, Norfrost turns over pounds 22m and employs 380 people. Alex heads manufacturing operations, and Pat is director of marketing, sales and personnel

OUR BIGGEST mistake was not knowing when to extend our range of models. When we started making freezers, in the room above our little television shop, they got hot on the inside and were cold on the outside. We reversed that process, and started off making several models: the 4-cubic ft chest and 6 and 8-cubic ft chests, as well as a 5-cubic ft upright.

But we had too many variables and we couldn't physically do it, with the equipment and size of factory we had. We hadn't money or experience, and after five years we realised we were making no money. We said: "We've got to concentrate on one particular model that sells well."

We started phasing out the larger models and stayed with the 4-cubic ft chest freezer, something we thought a housewife would want. A chest freezer is a lot more efficient than an upright. Before VAT, people tended to buy big freezers because there was no purchase tax on them. If it was any smaller than 12-cubic ft you had to pay 30 per cent purchase tax.

But we stuck with that model for 15 years which was five years too many. We missed out on other markets because we were doing so well with the model we had, exporting it around the world.

We were expanding our factories and when you are in a small area you don't have a lot of management skills you can call on. The feedback which made us change came from customers. They kept asking us to make smaller models. And when we did make a 2-cubic ft model, it was a great success, although it took a while to convince buyers it would sell. It did very well in Japan, and we began supplying to Currys seven weeks ago. They've already sold 700. It's ideal for single-parent families and pensioners who don't want to store a lot of food or can't afford a 4-cubic ft model.

These days, we go into shops, talk to our customers and look at what they might want to have in five years - it takes that long to get a production line going.